There were no celebrations on the turf at the final hooter, understandably so. India’s hockey team, favourites for the Asian Games gold medal, will return home with the bronze, after they edged Pakistan 2-1 in the play-off game on Saturday.
At the small GBK hockey stadium, the Indian supporters who packed the far side created a din. For them, this was the big match and they went back home a satisfied lot while the Indian team stayed back for the medal presentation, a painful wait as Malaysia and Japan contested the gold medal game.
In a dramatic finale, Japan then scripted an incredible turnaround, rallying from 2-5 down to win their maiden gold with a tense 3-1 win in shootout. It completed a superb double for the Japanese, who had won the women’s gold on Friday.
India, though, not at their best in the bronze medal match, got an early goal, the result of a swift move created by Lalit Kumar Upadhyay in the third minute. His pass from the left was directed to the roof of the goal by Akashdeep Singh, past Pakistan’s goalkeeper Imran Butt.
Pakistan came back stronger and India had a lucky escape as Muhammad Atiq’s hit came off the far post after beating goalkeeper P R Sreejesh. Pakistan also created two penalty corners but the Indians defended well, after Sreejesh had produced a neat save off the second.
India widened their lead in the 50th minute, through their first penalty corner, awarded after Mandeep Singh was obstructed by the Pakistan defence. Harmandeep Singh beat Imran with a clean strike to make it 2-0.
Pakistan, attacking with force, then caught India off-guard two minutes later. Muhammad Dilber advanced into the Indian area and found Abubaker Mahmood, who squared it for Muhammad Atiq to complete the formalities.
India spurned another opportunity with Rupinder Pal Singh spraying wide their second penalty corner.
Pakistan, desperate for the equaliser, played the last three minutes without the goalkeeper but they couldn’t breach the Indian defence. This is India’s third bronze in Asian Games hockey while Pakistan go home without a medal for only the second time.
In the gold medal game, Malaysia, sitting pretty at 5-2, were stunned by the Japanese spirit. Japan pulled level 5-5 but Malaysia scored again to make it 6-5. In the final few seconds, Japan drew level again and in the shootout, Malaysia simply crumbled under pressure.